Loyola professor updates children’s books

In her 32 years at Loyola, Bren Murphy has served as department chair and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.
In her 32 years at Loyola, Bren Murphy has served as department chair and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. | Contributed photo

To showcase the power of storytelling, Loyola University of Chicago’s School of Communication professor Bren Murphy and her students created a vibrantly colored children’s book as part of her “Community as Story” class curriculum recently.

“We’re trying to use this class to look at the power of storytelling in communities to say what’s normal and what isn’t—because that’s what books do,” Murphy said. Her class explores gender and diversity in children’s picture books as a novel approach to surveying the inner workings of urban communities.

“Little kids read the same stories over and over again,” she said. “They either see a mirror or a window to another world—maybe a world in which they don’t appear. They’re reading a book and looking at the pictures feeling like they don’t belong, or they’re seeing themselves in the images.”

Murphy’s students not only pore over printed pages, but also immerse themselves in the community, working with local schoolchildren and nonprofits. One story took a closer look at feelings about cultural differences by featuring a Muslim student who felt too different from her peers when wearing her hijab to school.

“It’s such a simple story, but it’s never been told through this platform before,” Murphy said.

In her 32 years at Loyola, Murphy has served as department chair and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences; produced a documentary, and taught courses on public speaking and feminism. Currently working on both a website and a film exploring Catholicism and American culture, Murphy expressed gratitude for her students’ contributions.

“The student involvement in both the book and film projects is just invaluable,” she said. “They have to use their experience and research skills to help come up with stories that are relevant. It wouldn’t even be a possibility without them.”

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